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The GOP civil war: Have conservatives already won?
The backlash to a potential budget deal with President Obama is building
 
House Speaker John Boehner and Tom Price (R-Ga.) might one day duke it out for Boehner's job.
House Speaker John Boehner and Tom Price (R-Ga.) might one day duke it out for Boehner's job. Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images,T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) probably got a bit of a scare this week when reports surfaced that Rep. Tom Price of Georgia was considering challenging him for the speakership. Price, a rock-ribbed conservative, is "concerned about the direction of the Republican conference," says Robert Costa at The National Review, particularly indications that Boehner could cave in to President Obama's demand to raise taxes on the wealthy. Price quickly said he "is not running" for Boehner's position, which, in a certain light, could be seen as evidence that Boehner has his caucus under control. 

However, on closer inspection it looks like Price has in no way shut the door to a leadership challenge. Most notable in Price's statement, says Jay Bookman at The Atlanta Journal Constitution, "is its use of present tense rather than future tense; i.e. 'is not running' vs. 'will not run.' Nobody suggested that he 'is' running." And even if Boehner were to defeat Price in a leadership struggle, "challenging and losing to Boehner over an issue of principle might make Price the leading congressional champion of the Tea Party wing of the GOP."

Indeed, Price's tacit threat of revolution is evidence that the party's conservative wing is alive and well, and ready to push back against voices that have called for moderation in the wake of Obama's re-election. Perhaps conservatives have already won, says Jonathan Chait at New York:

In the immediate wake of the election, Republicans felt so stunned — in no small part because they had deluded themselves into expecting victory — that it seemed momentarily possible that the party’s long march to the right may halt or even reverse. But the future of the party is already taking shape, and that future will be, in some form or fashion, a conservative reaction against the Republican leadership that has sold them out. The smarter Republicans have already shaken off the trauma of electoral defeat and begun positioning themselves to capitalize.

Chait focuses on Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a possible candidate for the 2016 presidential race who has adopted a more moderate tone (particularly on the issue of immigration), but has yet to break on a policy level from the conservative wing. Rubio's subtle positioning could put him in an ideal spot to criticize any deal on the budget deficit or immigration, while holding on to a veneer of moderation. 

Some, however, view Rubio's tone less cynically. While Rubio has "stopped short of the leaps Republicans need to make on taxes, health care, and other issues," says Ross Douthat at The New York Times, his outreach beyond the GOP's base represents a "very different response to an electoral drubbing than the kind of retrenchment Republicans embraced four years ago." It remains to be seen whether his moderate stance is "real or superficial," and whether a new generation of conservatives can prove themselves "more supple, creative, and farsighted" than the old guard.

 

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